My wife informed me recently that our 7-year-old wanted to play baseball this year. This news came, metaphorically speaking, out of left field. I have no interest in the game and he’s not really a sporty kid — something I’ve never seen as a problem.
“Okay,” I said, upon hearing the news. “When is the sign-up deadline?”
“Today,” my wife replied casually, making an expression that made me wonder if I was getting messed with.
A harried trip to the computer and $115 later, my boy was signed up for first-grade coach-pitched baseball and my guts were in a twist. In order to complete the registration, I had to answer some questions online.
“What is your child’s playing level?” I picked beginner because “Not Applicable” was not an option.
“Can your child play any special position? Pick pitcher or catcher.” I wondered if I could put a four-letter modifier in front of the boldface NO.
Sure, we play “baseball” in the front yard sometimes, but note the quotation marks. My son’s version of the game involves wildly throwing imaginary flaming pokeballs while I attempted to smash them with a tennis racket (we don’t own a bat). When I hit an imaginary ball, I run into my son to make him drop it. If he does, I have to run to “home base” before he reaches “the mound” or we exchange points.
The kid is going to find his first real practice rather confusing.
My dread at his likely humiliation comes with a side plate of guilt. I became a baseball fan after seeing a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with my best friend. When my boy arrived I had visions of us playing catch in the backyard on gentle summer evenings, hearing the thwack of glove leather and commenting on the strength and accuracy of his arm. But, despite buying him a beginner’s glove when he was five and taking him to the ballpark a couple times, the game of catch never really materialized. He couldn’t get the hang of it and I never had the patience to teach him. Same goes for hitting.
So why sign him up? Because he wanted to play. And unlike me, he has no fear of failure. What he does have is confidence and a sense that playing baseball will be fun.
I really want him to be right, but I also know a lot more about baseball than he does and I’d be shocked if things turned out that way.
Still, the dread is mine and mine alone. It surely comes from my own baggage — a fear of humiliation and embarrassment, mixed with a general distrust of jocks. I was never a sports kid. I wasn’t really athletic. I was a theater geek. The one time I tried to play a game of baseball with my cousins, I was knocked out cold by a high fly ball that I tried to catch with my eye. But that’s my history, not my son’s.
I signed him up because if there’s a chance he will find joy on the field, where I never did, then that is worth the risk of failure. How often do we shut down our possibility of happiness because we’re afraid of what might happen? My son deserves more than that.
When I think of him stepping out on the field for the first time, I’m terrified he’ll walk back to the dugout in tears. Still, there’s only one way to know if baseball will bring him joy. I’ve got to let him play. I’ve got to drive him to the practice and tell him I love him and leave him there with kids who know about bases and balls that aren’t on make-believe fire. When I pick him up, we’ll see how it went. Regardless, we’ll go home and make good on that game of catch.